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‘In the next 3-4 years, all trains will run fast and on time’

Published : May 22, 2016, 2:00 am IST
Updated : May 22, 2016, 2:00 am IST

Indian Railways is poised to become India’s principal engagement with foreign countries.

Indian Railways is poised to become India’s principal engagement with foreign countries.

Suresh Prabhu

, Union minister for railways, in a candid, free-wheeling interview to

Manish Anand

, said that his ministry would soon move the Union Cabinet for approval of “government-to-government” partnerships with foreign countries, a step beyond the concept of foreign direct investment.

We saw big-ticket FDI investment in the railway workshop projects at Madhepura and Mahraura in Bihar to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore. What would be the next big FDI investment in the railways We have seen massive interest from a number of countries in the modernisation of our railway stations. South Korea has already submitted its model of redevelopment of the New Delhi railway station. South Korea is ready with a proposal to invest as much as Rs 8,000 crore in the modernisation of the New Delhi railway station. The model is with us, which will be a complete gamechanger as far as a railway station is seen. France is keen to redevelop the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai. The French are also working for the re-development of Ludhiana station. In the coming times, we will see major FDI inflow into the railway sector.

You have been to Germany, France, Japan and many other countries. The railways appear to have become India’s engagement with foreign countries. What can we expect from these countries in the railways We are soon going to the Union Cabinet for approval to enter into “government-to-government” (G-G) investment (agreements). We are ready to sign agreements with as many as 14 countries. They are ready to partner with Indian Railways to make their governments partners in the progress of the railways. Among the 14 countries are Japan, China, Germany, Czechoslovakia, South Korea, France and the United Arab Emirates. G-G investment is better than FDI for the railways because here we do not have to worry about the involvement of private players. The money will come from the government of the partner country. In the coming years, we are going to witness massive G-G investment in the railways. Japan alone is going to invest close to $25 billion in Indian Railways, besides the bullet train project.

After commissioning the semi-high-speed rail between New Delhi and Agra, what progress can we expect on speeding up the railways We are going to offer one semi-high-speed route each to the 14 countries with which we are soon going to operationalise the G-G investment model. These countries will build the infrastructure and Indian Railways will integrate them into the existing system. Thus, we can have a large number of semi-high-speed rail networks getting commissioned at the same time; this can change the very face of the railways and the country in the next four to five years.

We already are holding trials of the Spanish semi-high-speed Talgo trains. It’s a matter of a few weeks in which we will know the full details of the claims being made by Talgo. Once we get the details, we will take the next course of action.

The Bibek Debroy Committee on the restructuring of the Railway Board was constituted soon after the Narendra Modi government came to power. Many more committees have in the past submitted reports. What is being done about their reports So far we have already implemented almost 90 per cent of the recommendations of the Bibek Debroy Committee. We have constituted two cross-functional directorates for non-tariff revenue and mobility, which will directly report to the chairman, Railway Board. We have already delegated powers to the general managers and divisional railway managers. Soon we will sign a memorandum of understanding with the zonal railways in which we will ensure their functional autonomy. Thus, much of the desired outcomes of the various committees have been implemented so far, and much more will be done. Very soon we are also going to establish the rail tariff authority. We are currently examining the legislative and non-legislative components of the proposed authority.

In the beginning of the coming to power of the Modi government, we heard much talk about the lateral entry of professionals in government departments. Is the idea still alive We are soon going to induct 100 interns from outside the railways who would become part of the organisation. We are keen to take outside professionals, and the cross-functional directorates would look to benefit from their talent pool.

With a soft loan from Japan in place for the bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, the popular perception persists that such investment should have come in for existing railway infrastructure. There is a place for a five-star hotel in an economy and similarly a bullet train project too is important for the country. In our economy we have five-star hotels where we do not expect the common man to go. We are not going to invest anything in the bullet train project. The money is coming from Japan. But we will gain from the induction of technology, the safety standards, the capacity to execute big-ticket projects, besides the huge spin-off effect on the economy by spending such a huge sum of money in the country.

When are we going to see the fruits of the investment being made in capacity augmentation by the railways, which has been the priority of your two projects In the last financial year we commissioned 2,828 km of new lines, broad gauge conversion and doubling. In the next two years we will add almost 7,000 km of such lines. We are going to invest close to Rs 45,000 crore in the next two years for such projects. By 2019, we hope to commission the twin dedicated freight corridors between Dadri and JNPT, Mumbai and Ludhiana-Kolkata. With their commissioning, much of the tracks will be available for running of trains and will also allow us to time-table the goods trains. In the next three to four years trains will not only run on time, but fast and tickets would also be available on demand.